The snow crunched beneath my gum boots as I walked in a straight line away from the farm buildings. In the Wisconsin 20 below zero weather, it was so cold that I could feel the hair inside my nose bristle and freeze. My blue tick hound, “Ruby”, raced circles around me aimlessly chasing barn pigeons that were picking corn out of the cow manure I had spread on top of the snow earlier that morning.
It was ten-thirty a.m. and all the chores were done for the day. The last few rows of corn were husked and in the silo. It was my favorite time of the year. That time when all I had to do was the chores in the morning and again in the evening. It was too cold to work in the sawmill or in the fields, so I had two choices. Stay cooped up inside our farmhouse all day playing checkers with one of my eight brothers and five sisters or take to the woods with my rifle and do some hunting. I almost always chose hunting. If for no other reason than to get away.
It was my first year out of school, I was 15, and I was free. Usually I went with several of my brothers to hunt, but today was different. Today was special. Today was the beginning of a new era in my life. A sip of a drink that, once it has been tasted, one could not recover from. As the top of the tallest silo disappeared over the hill behind me, I glanced across the fields and scanned the woods before me for prying eyes. This moment had to be perfect.
I reached into the front of my home-made hook and eye denim coat, felt for the knob, and in one instant a whole new world opened right before me.
She wakes me every morning with a smile and a kiss
Her strong country lovin’ is hard to resist
The blast of music rocked me back on my heels. I was in love. Ruby cocked her head to one side as if to ask, “Bro, what are you getting into now?”
For the first time in my life I had a way to pass the time besides the usual grind that is the norm on an Amish dairy farm.
Today my focus wasn’t necessarily on getting enough rabbits and squirrels to have a nice dinner to feed a family of fourteen.
Today I finally had a window to the outside world, and I was going to glean all the information I could.
Deep in the heart of the woods, down in a draw and out of the wind, my hands dug down through three feet of snow until they found some dry leaves. I cleared a six-foot circle on the ground and struck a match. The rabbit Ruby had chased up earlier served as lunch for both of us.
I piled more branches and logs on the fire, and as the flames sprang higher, two lonely creatures, a young man, his dog, his gun, and his first ever battery-operated radio settled in for an adventurous afternoon of country music.
On an afternoon, in January of 1994, exactly twenty years ago, I discovered Garth Brooks. It didn’t take long to figure out that he was the hottest artist on the radio at that time. Clearly, he was someone who put his heart and soul into every song and sang with more passion than all the rest.
On that day was born a dream. One day I would aspire to become a great inspirational singer just like Garth. I would change peoples’ lives just like he had changed mine. On that day I vowed to one day leave, meet Garth in person, we would become best friends, and he would surely see how talented I was. And of course, he would help me become a famous singer as well. Maybe we would even do duets together.
Fast forward three years. In 1997 I listened as my little radio exploded with the news of Garth Brooks playing LIVE at Central Park in New York City. Although I had some sense of what direction New York was, I had never heard of Central Park, and I wondered if Garth’s popularity was diminishing since he was now playing in a lowly park. I vowed to run away and attend this Concert if it is the last thing I ever did.
Alas, I was unable to attend the concert. There seemed to be some sort of technicality about a minor trying to cross a state border, or something along those lines.
By the time I finally joined the outside world in 2002, The Garth Man had retired, and I was left bitterly disappointed in this man who dared to retire at the height of his career, just when I needed him the most, and all because he had three young daughters and a new wife (miss Trisha Yearwood, bless her heart, came first) that he wanted to spend more time with.
Many things in my life have changed since that lad trudged through three feet of snow in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin 20 years ago, but the dream still burns on, and when Garth Brooks announced on Good Morning America that he was going out on tour in the fall of 2014, it rekindled so many old memories. Where was I the first time I heard Shameless, or The Dance, (still one of the most inspirational songs ever) How did I feel, and why do I still tear up every time I watch the video to Standing outside the fire?
There are no dates or destinations set in stone yet, but one thing is for certain, if you are at any of his concerts this fall, you can bet that I will be somewhere in the audience screaming at THE BIG MAN. This time state borders can’t hold me. There are no longer chains of a religion restricting me, and finally, gone are the good ole days of listening to a forbidden radio in 20 below weather.
I am getting a front row seat to the best LIVE show on earth. Possibly I will be joined by a few of my Friends in low places, and with Two Pina Coladas in my hands, and hopefully I ain’t going down til the sun comes up.